October and November are great months to get in base miles with a group. With many, if not most, roadie rides in "off season" pace, it is a great time to try your hand at riding with larger pelotons on regular rides around the area. While rides like the Tuesday Marina Ride and the Southbay Wheelman's Tuesday Ride typically hover in the 28-32MPH range in packs of 35-50 riders during the spring and summer, the packs thin and the pace comes down in the Fall.
When new riders with developing skills come into these group rides, sometimes there is increased tension, nervousness and even accidents. This past Tuesday, an experienced rider from the UCLA team hit a cone that was not pointed out by the rider in front and ended up in the hospital. This was an entirely avoidable incident and indicates a need for a reminder about key points of etiquette and safety on group rides.
Please give this list a quick read and strive to apply these rules and tips in your own rides. It is incumbent on each of us to become more skilled, safer riders. Often, it is not YOU who will bear the burden of your unsafe riding but the people in the pack around you.
1. BE A GOOD GUEST - If you are not an established member of a peloton, please act as a good guest. "When in Rome..." Try and assimilate into the norms of the group. That includes pace, communication, and any special riding patterns such as rotating pace lines. Also, start nearer to the back as a sign of respect for the regulars on the ride.
2. RIDE A ROAD BIKE - I can't stress this enough. Ride a road bike with drop handlebars. Leave the TT bike at home. If you have one bike with clip on aero bars, take them off. TT bikes are inherently less stable, less nimble. At best, you are a riskier bike handler, at worst, if you get in your aerobars in a peloton you will rightly get your butt yelled at. NEVER get in aerobars in a pack unless you are on a Pro Tour team preparing for a Team Time Trial. You're not. So don't.
3. MAINTAIN THE PACE OF THE GROUP - Do not 'do your own thing'. If you are on a group ride, you need to maintain the pace of the pack. If that means going slower than you'd like, so be it. If it means hammering until your lungs burst, well...do it until you pop and then slide out the back. When riders vary the pace they create gaps behind them or allow gaps to form ahead of them. This yo-yos the pack, esp. the people near the back. Bad form. Don't do it.
4. POINT OUT OBSTRUCTIONS - Verbally call out and, when safe to do so, physically point out obstacles. This may include but is not limited to:
- Upcoming red lights ('light up')
- Cars ('car up'/'car back')
- Pot holes ('pothole' and a finger pointing toward the hole)
- Cones ('cone' and a pointed finger)
- Water/sand/gravel (call out plus a waved hand to indicate a wide area of issue)
- Narrowing road or shoulder ('skinny up' and a hand extended outward and back waving the riders behind you to form a line behind you as you move left)
- Anything that causes you to slow or stop ('Slowing!' or 'Stopping' often accompanied by a flat hand, palm facing backward, laid against the lower back.)
- Flat tire ('Flat' with hand raised, if safe to do so) Just slow down gradually and when safe, move to the right
5. RIDE TWO WIDE - One of the great advantages of a group ride is that cars see us. I find it much safer to ride in a group than solo. But please...only two riders wide. And if there is a rotation in the group, watch what the experienced riders are doing. Are they moving up the right, rotating to the left and drifting back? Or just the opposite? Smoothly enter the rotation OR...feel free to stay near the back and stay out of the rotation if you are not yet comfortable.
6. DO NOT MOVE UP AT STOPLIGHTS - When the group comes to a stop at a light, you must NOT move up eight or ten spots. Stay where you are. The group needs to come to a stop in the same order that it was moving. Swarming the front of the group is bad etiquette. Move up when the group is rolling.
7. STAY BEHIND CARS AT LIGHTS - When you are solo (or if you are on a fixie, no helmet, smoking a cigarette) you might consider splitting the lanes and moving up through cars at a light. In a group, if you are at the front of the pack and arrive at a line of stopped cars...stay behind them.
8. WHEN IN DOUBT, PLAY IT COOL - Don't show up and be a loudmouth. Blend into the group and watch for cues from the veteran riders on what is expected in the group. Many of these standing rides have been going on for thirty years or more. Rides like Nichols Canyon, The Donut Ride, and Marina Loop have been around since long before most of us even started in the sport.
When you show up on a TT bike, bright red LATC jacket, double water bottle holders behind the seat, and your Ironman race number still stuck to your helmet or seatpost...you are basically asking to be singled out. Rightly or wrongly, all eyes are on you just *waiting* for you to blow it. Don't set yourself up for a situation. Tone it down, act like a respectful guest and you'll be fine.
Don't expect an outpouring of love. Roadies are a tough group. It ain't like a bunch of happy-go-lucky triathletes. And to some extent, the actions of one triathlete will color the way all of us are received in roadie pelotons. But the rewards for participating in group rides are undeniable - You'll ride smarter, ride better, ride harder and see incredible results.
As always, train safe and race hard. Hit me up with any questions.
Konrad Ribeiro firstname.lastname@example.org